It’s been said that “All roads lead to Rome.” All the paths I’ve taken thus far have led me to the role of HNS2017 Conference Program Chair.
I was one of those kids who knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to bring people together and entertain them. Historical costumes would be somehow involved. After too much time spent sick in bed as a child, drawing pictures of girls in flowing dresses wearing crowns, and then performing in afterschool plays, I majored in Theatre at college. After graduation, I took more classes, studying with an instructor from the Royal Shakespeare Company, among others, and became a professional actress, working primarily in period plays. I subsequently founded a nonprofit theatre company in NYC that specialized in neglected classics of the 19th c. English stage. I also adapted classic novels of the era, taking them from the page to the stage. There was a good deal of flowing dresses and crowns, as well as corsets and crinolines. From the wigs to the accents and dialects, I looked and sounded different in every show I did.
Being an actor-manager in the old tradition, alongside both union and nonunion actors who were all working toward the same goal of putting on a fabulous show (and my company produced about 40 large-cast plays on a shoestring budget) was exhilarating. Among the life lessons learned were: managing multiple diva egos (in the Theatre that can be just about everyone at times); making magic with very little money and a finite amount of time; one week before opening night everything will go wrong and it seems like you’ll never be ready, so you need to build in a cushion for contingencies; and that once the curtain finally rises, the show is wonderful—because you are doing what you love!
But after a few too many sleepless nights, I segued from running my own theatre company into writing. Fast forward several years—21 published books in three genres later. Two of those genres—my historical fiction and historical nonfiction—feature numerous girls in flowing dresses wearing crowns. My career expanded into narrating audiobooks (where I use all those accents and dialects I did—and still do—as a classically trained actress).
As a performer who spent years auditioning for others, as one who works in tandem with the authors whose titles I narrate, (and from the other side of the table, as an actor-manager who spent years casting others), I know that one of the biggest questions we all have when we want to book that job is: “What are they looking for?” What do they want to see from me that will snag me the gig?
So, as Program Chair for HNS2017, I’ll tell you what our committee is looking for, in the hope that these tips will help guide you in crafting your proposals before you submit them:
1) Subgenres such as historical mystery, historical romance, historical crime/thriller, young adult historical fiction; race and diversity in historical fiction; novels about swashbuckling heroes written by men; and double narratives across time periods.
2) Trends and forecasts: What’s true and what’s new in publishing and marketing of historical fiction.
3) Diversity in historical fiction: gender fluidity, unusual protagonists, non-European settings.
4) “The writer’s process: summoning the muse” (i.e., using software and other technical aids as well as historical nonfiction for your research). We’d love to see a panel of nonfiction authors.
5) Craft: Writing dialogue for different periods.
6) Saturday Afternoon Readers’ Festival (i.e., authors talking to readers). For HNS2017 we will have a new event on Saturday Afternoon with special programming geared toward readers. The entire Portland community will be invited to attend this special ticketed event. Regular conference attendees may attend these programs as well; everyone is streamed into the Conference book signing after this Festival.
At HNS2017 we would like to see fresh faces and new voices among the familiar ones on our panels and in our workshops. If you are a veteran HNS presenter, please consider inviting an author who may be newer to the genre (or a veteran author new to the conference) to round out your proposal. Additionally, panels that reflect a cross-section of traditional and indie authors are encouraged. In my nonprofit theatre company actors performed side by side and there was no “I’m union and you’re not, (or vice versa) mindset. No matter who’s throwing the shade, that shadow is ugly, it’s divisive; and the ethos of HNS is a shared passion for historical fiction, an enthusiasm that we spread to all conference attendees.
What are they looking for? Cool ideas. Things we haven’t seen before. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. and professionalism. A spirit of inclusivity and fun.
We already have several exciting new programs planned for HNS2017, and we can’t wait for you to join us and our phenomenal Guests of Honor, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks, and David Ebershoff, acclaimed author of The Danish Girl.
See you in Portland next June!
HNS2017 Program Chair
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